There's been a lot on my mind lately. Okay. Who am I kidding? I always have a lot on my mind. Let me rephrase that to say there has been a lot weighing on me lately. These weighing-down things are multiple in nature but some of them have led me to ruminate about the nature of imperfection.
My family is imperfect. When I was a child, though, I didn't know that. I knew that I had lots of aunts and uncles and cousins. I knew I had a grandma and grandpa I adored. I didn't have a father, but because I had never had a father living with me, I didn't know the difference. I loved family get-togethers. There was always a lot of laughter and joy—and more laughter.
As I grew older, two things happened. One, my family dispersed. Picking up and moving, one family at a time. Most of them to Oklahoma. So, the first real change was its reduction in size. The next big change was that as I grew up, my perceptions of them changed. I began to see the dysfunction. I started hearing the family secrets. Still, I loved them fiercely. I was now grown up and growing older. Loved ones died. More secrets. More dysfunction. And Pain. The secrets were painful. I was a part of the dysfunction and didn't know how to deal with it.
The pain became a wall keeping me from feeling love for some of the people in my family. I'm not sure that I have torn that wall down yet. But I have always felt that I wasn't released from my family. I have no doubts that there are times when you have to leave your family behind. For your sanity. For your safety. But I've never felt that. Not yet. I've talked to enough people to know that my specific experiences may be unique but the nature of them is not. Many, many people experience the type of dysfunction I do in my family.
Yet even in the midst of all that dysfunction, there is joy… and love. There are still hugs and laughter and joy. It isn't the same as I remember as a child. But it is there… and so I stay.
When I became a Christian, I was still growing up. 15 years old. I don't think I thought about the church and whether or not it was perfect. Looking back though, I can see that I assumed the church was perfect. It became another home for me. A refuge.
I grew up and older, and just like with my family, I saw changes in my new church family. We dispersed. People moved to different churches. People left the church altogether. I moved from the church I attended in high school for no better reason than I thought I needed to start over somewhere new where the bad habits and attitudes I had developed with some of my friends would not be such a temptation—gossip, negative attitudes, etc.
I grew up some more and began volunteering and then working at a church. My perceptions of the people there began to change. I saw the imperfections in how they dealt with each other. Worse yet, I saw the imperfections in the ministers around me. I started hearing church secrets. It wasn't always easy but it was actually a good thing to experience—a catalyst for maturity, a bigger perspective.
I became part of a church plant. We started out with high ideals, a lot of energy, and a determination to do things the "right way." But eventually the dysfunction I thought I'd left behind at my old church bubbled up. Some issues were ones I realized that all churches experience. Some were unique to the situation. And they hurt. Badly. The body of Christ which is supposed to be united, nipped and bit and spat at each other. The church got smaller… and smaller… and smaller. People left because of their anger. People left because the worship wasn't the same. People left because there wasn't the right menu of church goods and services available to them. People just left. The leadership prayed and worked and prayed.
A remnant remain. Some really amazing people who, for whatever reason, have called this church home and chosen to love it—in spite of its imperfections. They love it well and they, apparently, have not felt like anything that has happened as been enough that they need to leave.
All of this above is for you to understand that…
In the last week, I have felt the most love for my little church, my hurting church. I have felt love for the wonderful people who've chosen to look past the numbers, and the lack of a menu of services, and the imperfect people. They've chosen to stay put and love God and each other in our church community.
In this last week, I have felt the least love over the rumors I have heard. Rumors that some who have left are saying that God is no longer at my church. I have grieved over the people who act as if their leaving didn't matter, who carry on as if nothing is different, who don't seem to have any doubts of their rightness, who question the decisions of those who haven't left yet. I am tired of pointing fingers and accusations.
And finally, I am left with my struggle. My struggle to deal with my anger and grief because people wouldn't stay and love my imperfect church. My beautiful church. And I have so many opinions and judgments about all that. But the biggest problem I have is that I know I am supposed to love those people. Those leaving people. Those imperfect people.
Imperfect like my church.
Imperfect like me.
And I don't quite know how yet.